The untimely demise of Yassir Arafat (it should have happened years earlier) has precipitated an event that looks for all the world like a real election. The current favorite of both odds makers and policy makers is Mahmoud Abbas, for whom the word "moderate" has become more than adjective, it is adhesive. Indeed the first fifteen words in today's report on the region by Reuters are: 'The moderate frontrunner in the race for Palestinian president called Israel the Zionist Enemy Tuesday…." A more oxymoronic opening can scarcely be imagined, unless perhaps this: "The motherly performer Madonna said in today's PTA meeting that the sequel to her sex book would be racier…"
This news comes on the heels of Mr. Abbas's recent promise that all Palestinian refugees will eventually return to Israel. It is not merely that the chances of that happening are nil, it is not merely that this runs counter to the range of the possible as envisioned by any peace plan imaginable, it is not merely that this is tantamount to a declaration of war on the State of Israel, it is that this is a wholesale rejection of the idea of a Jewish state existing in the Middle East. Put simply, this is not a return to pre-1967, it is a return to pre-1948.
Nobody knows for sure how many Palestinians decided to evacuate after Israel declared independence and the Arab countries declared war, but there are many millions today who claim to be their descendants. Irresponsible demagogues keep firing them up with this vision of not only having their own state alongside Israel but also gaining majority status within Israel proper. Getting these folks to separate from this irredentist vision has been like pulling teeth.
It had been hoped that Mr. Abbas would be sufficiently the realist to edify his people into reasonableness. Apparently we bourgeois Westerners have once again been exposed in all of our charming but pernicious naïveté. Mr. Abbas insists on saturating us with pronouncements that are, in a word, immoderate. Mahmoud has been going from bad to worse.
Alexandre Dumas said, "All generalizations are dangerous, including this one." The obvious question is: was it père or fils? I don't know the answer to that one, but I think we are prepared today to add a corollary: the rule that all things are good in moderation applies also to moderation itself. Here we were ready to give Mr. Abbas the not inconsiderable benefit of the considerable doubt, to accept his moderate credentials with what Shakespeare called "credent soul," and we get this? My grandpa (père's père) was right when he told me as a kid, "I'm not the type that if you spit in my face I'll think that it's raining."
Seems like moderation has about run its course. It's time for a healthy dose of hard-nosed realism. I don't know whether Abbas believes this swill or whether he is holding his nose and pandering to the electorate, the bottom line is about the same. It means that Palestinian sheep need to wear wolf's clothing, and we can't sleep if we can't count sheep. Add to them the wolves wearing wolf's clothing and there isn't even any wool to pull over our eyes. This tune is getting very familiar; it conjures up unpleasant memories of Robert MacFarlane and that most chimerical of shams -- the moderates in the Iranian government. Remember those boys? Good grief!
Perhaps the day will come that the Palestinians will move into the 20th century, which will be a helpful step in the direction of joining the rest of us in the 21st. But clearly today is not yet that day. Nor is the path of progress clearly delineated. If anything, the youth seem to be more radicalized and hostile than their parents were ever prepared to display. By all accounts, classrooms and textbooks have not been oriented toward promoting a neighborly or brotherly sensibility towards Israel or Jews.
Is there no hope? Foreclosing hope is not only sad, it is often not wise. The Soviet Union, before its collapse, was not replete with harbingers of a better day at hand. Still, let us not project phantasms and mirages unto a screen that currently holds a horizon of intransigence. If Fate can see further than our limited vision, fine, but for now we must operate within the constraints of our eyeshot.
Mr. Abbas, we don't need another dancing queen. Either speak out of one side of your mouth and speak real words of truth, words of hope, words of peace, or we shall yet again be forced to despair of the process. Then we would have to say: à bas, Abbas!